Your NPR news source
2024 James Beard Award finalists from Chicago

(Clockwise) Sujan Sarkar of Indienne, Jenner Tomaska of Esmé, Jason Hammel’s Lula Cafe and Anna Posey of Elske. These Chicago chefs and eateries are finalists for this year’s James Beard Awards, often called the “Oscars of the food world.” The ceremony will take place on Monday.

Courtesy of Neil John Burger; Courtesy of Natasha Moustache; Kelli Stanko for WBEZ; Courtesy of Huge Galdones

How many James Beard-award winning restaurants have you tried?

The ceremonies are back in Chicago next week. We scoured the list of our past honorees to make a bucket list of local winners that are still in business.

When the James Beard Foundation Awards were established in 1990, Charlie Trotter’s namesake Lincoln Park restaurant was the talk of Chicago’s food scene, having opened three years prior. Throughout the ’90s and early 2000s, it was Trotter — along with his contemporaries like Rick Bayless and Paul Bartolotta — who were regularly recognized by the “Oscars of the food world.”

Then, in the aughts and 2010s, the torch was passed to a new generation — many of whom were Trotter alumni. Grant Achatz — owner and chef at the three-Michelin-starred Alinea — along with fine-dining wiz Curtis Duffy and pastry rockstar Mindy Segal became the reigning rulers of Chicago’s food world.

But now, the Beards — and Chicago’s dining scene writ large — have entered yet another new era. In 2020, the organization began a year-long audit meant to address systemic bias that favored white chefs at white-tablecloth restaurants. Following a hiatus, the awards — which have been hosted in Chicago for nearly a decade — resumed in 2022 with a stated commitment to diversifying the voting body and removing expensive entry fees in some of the prestigious categories. In the last couple of years, recipients in Chicago have been more reflective of the city’s diverse neighborhood dining scene and less confined to downtown eateries.

This year, four Chicago restaurants are finalists. Before the ceremony on Monday at the Civic Opera House, here is a look back at the local winners of the restaurant and chef awards where you can still dine today. The Beards also award in categories for business operations, journalism, books and media.

Tell us: How many of the restaurants below have you eaten at? Send us your list (and top picks) at arts@wbez.org. We may share your reply in our newsletter, the Green Room.

2024 finalists

Best Chef Great Lakes
Sujan Sarkar, Indienne, 217 W. Huron St.
Sarkar already made his name after earning a Michelin star; his was the first Indian restaurant in Chicago to do so. His River North restaurant serves up seasonal tasting menus featuring Indian food with a modern twist.

Jenner Tomaska, Esmé, 2200 N. Clark St.
Former executive chef at Grant Achatz’s Next, Tomaska opened his fine-dining Lincoln Park restaurant in 2021 and earned a Michelin Star in 2023. Tomaska was nominated twice for the Beard’s Rising Star Chef of the Year award.

Outstanding Hospitality
Lula Cafe, 2537 N. Kedzie Blvd.
By far the oldest restaurant to be among this year’s nominees, this beloved Logan Square neighborhood spot was opened by husband-wife duo Jason Hammel and Amalea Tshilds in 1999.

Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker
Anna Posey, Elske, 1350 W. Randolph St.
The West Loop restaurant from Anna Posey and her husband/co-owner, David, has a Michelin Star and has been a Beard finalist a couple times. But this would be the first Beard win for either of the Poseys, whose restaurant has a Danish influence.

Chicago Beard winners from 1991 to 2023 where you can still dine

JAMESBEARD-060623-26.jpg

Kasama’s Genie Kwon and Tim Flores.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Chicago Sun-Times

2023
Kasama, 1001 N. Winchester Ave.
Genie Kwon and Tim Flores, Best Chef Great Lakes

The duo behind Kasama — the beloved East Ukrainian Village Filipino spot that has a line down the block every weekend — were the most recent Chicago chefs to be recognized in this category by the Beards, taking home the Best Chef win in the Great Lakes category (where Chicago has been classified since 2007). Beyond awards, the destination has also gotten a boost from its cameo in the TV show The Bear.

Virtue, 1462 E. 53rd St.
Damarr Brown, Emerging Chef of the Year

Brown is chef de cuisine at Virtue — the Hyde Park spot that focuses on Southern comfort food. Brown was the first Chicagoan to win in this category after it was introduced by the Beards in 2021, replacing the Rising Star Chef award, which had an age limit attached. The Beard Foundation said the change was to be more equitable and recognize that success can come at any age.

Grid_Virtue chef grill.jpg

Chef/Virtue owner Erick Williams.

Brian Rich/Chicago Sun Times

2022
Virtue, 1462 E. 53rd St.
Erick Williams, Best Chef Great Lakes

Williams opened Virtue in 2018, which he has said combines his background in fine dining with his love for Southern cuisine. The combination has been a winning formula. Virtue’s menu — featuring staples like biscuits served with pimento cheese, grits and gumbo — along with its impressive bar program, have made it a beloved spot in Hyde Park. Williams was even willing to share his bean stew recipe with WBEZ.

2019
Publican Quality Bread, 1759 W. Grand Ave.; 211 Harrison St., Oak Park
Greg Wade, Outstanding Baker

Bread Head author Greg Wade’s baking is everywhere, from Public Quality Bread’s two storefront locations in West Town and Oak Park to plates served up at beloved local eateries like Avec and Daisies. Want to try your hand at making bread like a James Beard Award-winning baker? You can get into the right headspace with Wade’s baking playlist featuring the likes of, well, of course, the Grateful Dead — along with Bob Seger, Bonnie Raitt, and The Mamas & the Papas.

20200918_Kelly_Cheng_mm00008.jpg

Sun Wah general manager Kelly Cheng.

Manuel Martinez/WBEZ

2018
Sun Wah, 5039 N. Broadway
America’s Classics

Sun Wah has been serving “blue-collar-style Hong Kong food,” as General Manager Kelly Cheng described it, since 1987. The family-owned restaurant, now run by the second generation, is famous for a dish that’s not even technically on the menu: a whole roasted duck that’s carved tableside. According to the James Beard Foundation, the America’s Classics designation is given “to locally owned restaurants that serve quality food, have timeless appeal, and reflect the character of their communities.” Cheng told WBEZ in 2022 that the key to long-term success has been, as a family, pulling in the same direction. “We’ve always been a family,” Kelly said. “We may fight, argue and leave the table angry, but the next day it’s over. Then one of us will say, ‘Hey, maybe your way will work. What if we did your plan like this?’ ”

2017
Topolobampo, 445 N. Clark St.
Outstanding Restaurant

Chef Rick Bayless and his fine-dining Mexican restaurant, Topolobampo, have been a staple in Chicago’s dining scene for decades — since the spot first opened in River North in 1989. In 2017, Bayless’s longstanding eatery added “outstanding restaurant” to its long list of accolades, which also includes a Michelin Star. The tasting menu at Topolobampo is deeply rooted in Mexican culture, but as the restaurant’s website puts it, “rarely does it resemble what you’d find in a traditional Mexican kitchen.” Bayless’s significant contributions to Chicago were even recently recognized with “Rick Bayless Day.”

Monteverde, 1020 W. Madison St.
Sarah Grueneberg, Best Chef Great Lakes

Known for her appearances on shows like Top Chef and Iron Chef, Grueneberg opened her West Loop Italian restaurant and pastificio in 2015. Originally from Houston, she first came to Chicago to work as a line cook at chef Tony Mantuano’s Spiaggia, where she worked her way up the ranks before eventually going off on her own. At Monteverde, handmade pasta is created throughout the day, and classic dishes get a modern twist. It’s not surprising to see ingredients such as tahini and roasted miso, along with abundant gluten-free options.

CHIUB-Cherry-Circle-Room.jpg

Cherry Circle Room.

Courtesy of Chase Daniels

2016
Alinea, 1723 N. Halsted St.
Outstanding Restaurant

Today, Achatz’s Alinea is one of only two restaurants in Chicago to boast three Michelin stars. And nearly two decades after opening, it remains one of Chicago’s hardest-to-get reservations — featuring fantastical, hard-to-define gastronomy dishes. Achatz, the superstar chef at the helm who has inspired a cadre of local chefs, was diagnosed with stage-four tongue cancer in 2007, just two years after opening Alinea, causing him to temporarily lose his sense of taste. The story of his comeback was featured in a 2016 episode of Chef’s Table.

Cherry Circle Room, 12 S. Michigan Ave.
Land and Sea Dept., Outstanding Restaurant Design (76 Seats and Over)

Located inside the Chicago Athletic Association hotel downtown, the Cherry Circle Room is the response to the perennial question: Where’s a cozy-yet-sophisticated and quintessentially local spot where I can take a group? Drawing on Americana decor (keep an eye out for the presidential busts), there’s also some whimsy and a bit of a nautical feel. But design aside, the menu is a romp through American food but with worldly touches, such as a $32 wild game burger topped with blackberry jam, steaks galore and the must-order milk bread.

beard-CST-xxxxxx-3.JPG

The Violet Hour.

Scott Stewart/Chicago Sun-Times

2015
The Violet Hour, 1520 N. Damen Ave.
Outstanding Bar Program

Since 2007, The Violet Hour has served up wine, cocktails, premium spirits and mocktails behind an unmarked facade along Damen Avenue that’s adorned with a rotating mural. The Violet Hour became one of Chicago’s first New York-style craft cocktail lounges, launching a trend that continues evolving today. The low-key spot is from the One Off Hospitality Group (which also owns, among other eateries, Big Star and Dove’s Luncheonette across the street) and head mixologist Toby Maloney. The James Beard win cemented the reputation of its ever-changing drinks program.

Brindille, 534 N. Clark St.
Bureau of Architecture and Design, Outstanding Restaurant Design (75 Seats and Under)

This River North spot describes itself as “refined Parisian dishes in intimate, sexy, and inviting style.” Brindille means “twig” or “new growth” in French and that theme is found throughout the design, in artwork, wood accents and light fixtures. “We sought to create a space where the details, the service, the bar, the cuisine, the entire experience, all are reminiscent of something you’ve enjoyed in the past, only now everything is modern, more ethereal,” the architects told Architect Magazine. In a city with multiple options for a great French meal, it’s a clutch choice.

2014
Next, 953 W. Fulton Market
Dave Beran, Best Chef Great Lakes

When the Alinea Group, headed up by chef Grant Achatz and businessman Nick Kokonas, expanded its empire in 2011, they had a key talent: Dave Beran, the executive chef at Next. Beran stayed on for five years, during which time he earned the James Beard win, before departing in 2016. He now runs an upscale French-bistro-style restaurant in Santa Monica, California, called Pasjoli. This year, Next — now under executive chef Alan Mileykovsky — is doing a series of tribute menus to notable chefs. Up now is a Bobby Flay tribute menu, which will be followed by an ode to Chicago’s own Charlie Trotter starting in September.

jbeard-CST-050312-5.jpg

The Purple Pig’s Jimmy Bannos Jr.

Richard A. Chapman/Chicago Sun-Times

The Purple Pig, 444 Michigan Ave.
Jimmy Bannos Jr., Rising Star Chef of the Year

Bannos, a Chicago native, has run The Purple Pig since 2009. In 2019, The Purple Pig relocated from its original location at 500 Michigan Ave. to make way for a new Chick-fil-A. Bannos told the Chicago Tribune at the time that it was the right time to move into a larger space. For years, the restaurant has been a staple on the Michelin Guide’s Bib Gourmand list, which highlights restaurants for good cooking at a good value. It remains a no-fail choice for a simple date night before a show in the Loop or for impressing guests who are staying downtown.

9-22 cruze girl and the goat 8

Girl & The Goat’s famed green beans.

Tom Cruze/Chicago Sun-Times

2013
Girl & The Goat, 809 W. Randolph St.
Stephanie Izard, Best Chef Great Lakes

After winning Top Chef in 2008, Izard opened her first Chicago restaurant, Girl & The Goat, in 2010, which has been a staple of West Loop’s Restaurant Row for more than a decade. Izard’s empire now includes Little Goat, Duck Duck Goat and Cabra, along with a couple of Los Angeles locations. Girl & The Goat is known for its globally inspired small-plates, especially its famous green beans and goat empanadas.

The Aviary, 955 W. Fulton Market
Outstanding Bar Program

Another offering from the Alinea Group, The Aviary opened in Fulton Market in 2011, along with The Office, a speakeasy that’s located directly below The Aviary. The spot brings Achatz’s fine-dining approach to cocktails. Guests are given the choice between a seven- or five-course cocktail and food tasting menu, or to opt for the three-course cocktail progression that allows you to select three drinks of your choosing and the option to pair the libations with a la carte food.

2012
North Pond, 2610 N. Cannon Drive
Bruce Sherman, Best Chef Great Lakes

After 20 years on the job, chef Bruce Sherman left North Pond in 2019. During his tenure, he earned nods from both the James Beard Foundation in 2012 and a Michelin star the next year in 2013. Today, chef César Murillo helms the beloved Lincoln Park spot. Located in a historic 1912 building — originally used as a warming shelter for ice skaters — North Pond is known for its brunch and seasonal tasting menu.

Next, 953 W. Fulton Market
Best New Restaurant

Back when it was the new kid on the food scene as Alinea’s younger sibling, Next took home the Beard Foundation’s honor for Best New Restaurant. (See 2014 win.)

12-15-04 kim avec7.jpg

Avec’s chorizo-stuffed medjool dates.

John J. Kim/Chicago Sun-Times

2010
Avec, 615 W. Randolph St.; 141 W. Erie St.
Koren Grieveson, Best Chef Great Lakes

A cross between Mediterranean and Midwestern food, Avec first opened its West Loop location in 2003. The wood-flanked interior is a cozy setting for the spot’s famed small plates, like chorizo-stuffed medjool dates, which won chef Koren Grieveson this award in 2010. Grieveson, who had been onboard since Avec’s beginning, departed in 2012. In 2021, the famously tiny restaurant got a second, much roomier location in River North, but nothing beats the charm of the packed original.

Calumet Fisheries, 3259 E. 95th St.
America’s Classics

This beloved South Side spot has been smoking fish onsite since 1948. Family run for more than 75 years, it’s a strictly takeout business, focused on the “disappearing art” of smoking fish the old-school way — marinating in a brine overnight, then using only special oak logs to stoke the fire. Calumet Fisheries has been closed for more than six months due to a devastating electrical fire last fall, but now, the restaurant is slated to reopen just in time for Beards weekend.

5-25-05 frost alinea 5.jpg

Chef Grant Achatz at Alinea in 2005.

Jim Frost/Chicago Sun-Times

Alinea, 1723 N. Halsted St.
Outstanding Service

Another win for Alinea, this time in the service category, which has since been replaced by the Outstanding Hospitality award. (See 2016.)

2009
The Publican, 837 W. Fulton Market
Design Bureaux, Inc, Outstanding Restaurant Design

Since 2008, The Publican has been a gem in One Off Hospitality Group’s suite of restaurants. The Fulton Market restaurant is known for its use of natural elements — wood furniture and wood columns do most of the talking in this space, along with ample, bulbous light fixtures hung in neat rows. The simple elegance is reminiscent of European beer halls.

Grant Achatz

Chef Grant Achatz.

Diane Bondareff/Associated Press

2008
Alinea, 1723 N. Halsted St.
Grant Achatz, Outstanding Chef

A pioneer in molecular gastronomy, Achatz cut his teeth at Charlie Trotter’s and the famed California restaurant The French Laundry before opening Alinea in Lincoln Park in 2005, which quickly began earning him top honors like this one.

Tufano’s Vernon Park Tap, 1073 W. Vernon Park Place
America’s Classics

This is a true family establishment, operated in the same Little Italy building since it was opened by husband-and-wife Joseph DiBuono and Teresa Tufano in 1930. Come for the classics, such as lemon chicken, eggplant parmesan, and sausage and peppers, stay for the old-school ambiance.

2007
Frontera Grill, 445 N. Clark St.
Outstanding Restaurant

Bayless’s first restaurant in Chicago opened in 1987. The spot was inspired by a trip that Bayless and his wife, Deann Groen Bayless, took to Mexico. They wanted to create a place that felt like the eateries they had encountered on their travels. The result was Frontera Grill, which has been in River North for nearly 40 years.

Alinea, 1723 N. Halsted St.
Grant Achatz, Best Chef Great Lakes

A year before taking home a win in the nationwide Outstanding Chef category, Achatz was named the best in the region. This is also when Chicago moved to the Great Lakes category of this award.

12-9_Jackson_Avec_1.jpg

Avec in West Loop.

Brian Jackson/Chicago Sun-Times

2005
Avec, 615 W. Randolph St.; 141 W. Erie St.
Thomas Schlesser Design, Outstanding Restaurant Design

Two years after opening that tight, wood-paneled spot in West Loop, Avec was recognized by the Beard Foundation for its outstanding design. At Avec, the ambiance is as much a part of the experience as the small plates.

12-08-05 kim arun01.jpg

Arun Sampanthavivat, chef/owner of Arun’s.

John J. Kim/Chicago Sun-Times

2000
Arun’s, 4156 N. Kedzie Ave.
Arun Sampanthavivat, Best Chef Midwest

This fine-dining Thai restaurant has been located in Albany Park for decades. Serving both prix-fixe and a la carte menus, Arun’s is known for its massaman curry. In addition to his skills in the kitchen, Sampanthavivat is an artist, and his paintings cover the walls of his restaurant. These days, reservations aren’t nearly as hard to come by, making it a solid option for a fine-dining experience without much planning.

BERGHOFF 2.jpg

The Berghoff.

Brian Rich/Chicago Sun-Times

1999
The Berghoff, 17 W. Adams St.
America’s Classics

A staple of Loop dining, The Berghoff is among Chicago’s oldest restaurants. The German spot has been family owned and operated for more than 125 years, serving up traditional dishes like wiener schnitzel and Bavarian pretzels.

Rick Bayless

Chef Rick Bayless.

Barry Brecheisen/Invision/Associated Press

1995
Topolobampo, 445 N. Clark St.; Frontera Grill, 445 N. Clark St.
Rick Bayless, Outstanding Chef

Shortly after the Beard Foundation launched the awards, it was Bayless who was recognized — first for being the best in the region, then as outstanding chef a few years later.

1991
Topolobampo, 445 N. Clark St.
Rick Bayless, Best Chef Midwest

Chicago’s first winner!

Update: This story was updated to reflect that Calumet Fisheries, which won a James Beard Award in 2010, is slated to reopen after an extended closing due to fire.


Courtney Kueppers is an arts and culture reporter at WBEZ.

Want more culture news in your inbox every week? Subscribe to Green Room, a newsletter from WBEZ’s Arts & Culture desk.

The Latest
This summer, brush up on your local history with tours that highlight everything from architectural styles to underground critters.

With legal troubles behind him, the Chicago native will play the Lyrical Lemonade Summer Smash Festival on Sunday — his first performance in the area in over 10 years.
As her three-year tenure comes to a close, Jessie Montgomery reminisces over her time with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and shares her inspirations.
Some residents and business owners are happy to see the traffic and noise leave and for the community to regain access to green space. Others are sorry to lose the excitement and crowds.
Looking for a retreat in or near the city? Here are 10 trails, parks, forest preserves, urban gardens and lesser-known spots to escape the hustle and hurry.